Modern Mums: Have Traditional Roles Really Changed?

Celebrities and the media can often give us the (dubious) impression that the modern woman is able to do it all, with the likes of Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Madonna seeming to balance hands-on child rearing with hugely successful careers - all without a hair falling out of place.

Only 50 years ago it was rare to find a woman attempting to combine both of these roles. Instead, once she had her first child, a woman’s career usually ended and she would become primarily a mother and homemaker. It was the duty of the husband to work and provide for the family while his wife stayed at home.

The feminist movement has certainly brought about some drastic social changes - as these superwoman celebs might suggest - however, many areas of the media have continued to promote traditional roles, so that it can seem as though little has changed. 


Television and print adverts for cleaning products and domestic appliances predominantly feature and target women, making the implicit assumption that it's their responsibility to keep the house clean. Of course, it's true that traditional gender roles are still in place in many households today, and it could be argued that these advertisements merely reflect reality rather than harbouring any sexist agenda.

However, it's evident that the style of many ads has changed little over the past 50 years. You only need to look at last year's slew of Christmas television ads - showing an exhausted Mum staggering around managing all the festive domestic chores while the rest of the family (including husband) kick back and relax - for evidence that stereotypical male and female roles are still very much alive and well, in the advertising industry at least. 

However, not all adverts stick to these dated depictions of family life. Long-running advertising campaigns for cleaning products like Mr Muscle have used enduring male characters to front their ads, complete with male voiceovers. These adverts arguably helped to challenge traditional gender roles by placing men in the position of household cleaner, and more recent ads have reinforced this idea. Jamie Oliver fronted a long-running high-profile campaign for Sainsbury's in which he was seen buying groceries and cooking for his family – a role that for many years was solely played by the wife in TV adverts.

Today, many women in the public eye have successful jobs, be it as fashion designers, actors or singers. However, even those at the height of their careers are usually still also portrayed as successful wives and mothers, with the same responsibilities as the traditional stay-at-home Mum. But just how realistic is the image of the full-time working, domestic goddess mum - Dyson vacuum cleaner in one hand, briefcase in the other? 

Today the genders seem more equal than ever in many respects, but TV ads would have us believe that traditional roles are still in place. Without new campaigns to shake things up, there is the danger that parts of the media will keep on promoting old-fashioned views, rather than reflecting how the household chores are divided up in real life.


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